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Aaron Spatz 00:00
You’re watching America’s entrepreneur. Welcome to the show. I’m your host, Aaron Spatz. And each week we interview entrepreneurs, industry experts, and other high achievers as a detail or personal professional journeys. Before we jump in, hit the subscribe button and be sure to hit the bell icon so you’re notified every time we release a new episode. Hey, welcome to America’s entrepreneur, I’m just so excited that you’re here. Thank you for spending spending some time it’s been it’s been fun getting back into the swing of things. And really excited to just bring another really impactful story that I think is going to really encourage even though there’s a lot of challenge in the middle of the story. And so we’re gonna welcome Chris Bentley to the show. Chris is actually a US Marine veteran, Founder, CEO of Bella Toram. And we’re going to build some resources. We’re going to talk a little bit more about his, his journey, the story, the aftermath, there’s there’s plenty of news stories out there, there’s even you know, there’s a Reuters article, there’s a bunch of stuff in the news from last year, back in April, about some things that that Chris came clean about, and we’re gonna talk a little bit more about that. So I’ll let him tell his story. But, Chris, I just want to thank you, man, thank you so much for making some time for me and for being willing to share a little bit about your story.
Chris Bentley 01:17
Thanks for having me on air, and I appreciate it.
Aaron Spatz 01:19
Yeah. So you know, we’re joking off air but you know, I, I have a massive bias towards bringing in fellow US Marines onto the show. I love I love everybody, but nothing like talking to fellow brother or sister from from our beloved Marine Corps. But we’d love to just one let’s like, let’s talk about that real quick. We’d love to, we’d love to hear what was your motivations for joining? What did you do? What did you get out? What did you do after you got out those kinds of things?
Chris Bentley 01:48
Yeah, you know, I grew up in in East Texas and Tyler and you know, just in the Marine Corps, all I wanted to do I I didn’t go talk to any other recruiters. And, and funny story, I, you know, I was gung ho kind of, I wouldn’t say a cowboy, but kind of a country boy, I wanted to be an infantry man. But I didn’t know nobody in my family served in the Marine Corps. I didn’t go to the recruiter with, with a parent or a big brother or an uncle or anything like that, like I’ve heard so many stories of other Marines do and so I got, should I say, you know, maybe I misunderstood what my recruiter was telling me. So right now, I ended up as a open contract reservist, oh, man, man, and, and I think people who were recruiters will know, like, that’s a very, that looks good for the recruiter, because there’s like certain reserve billets and ship dates that they have to meet. And I told my recruiter, Hey, I just want to be a Marine, you know, send me as soon to boot. I don’t have any picky date on boot camp. I had a job I said, you tell me when I’m ready, when to report and and I just thought every Marine was a Marine, like I didn’t know about MLS is and all that I didn’t. Anyway, long story short, I ended up an open contract reservist, and when I found that out, I was like, literally when I found out what that meant. I was at boot camp when they said hey, if reservist arms up you know and they like separate you in the chow line reservists and active duty and and then so when I got back to report to my unit and figured everything out, I immediately tried to figure out how to go active duty. I’m like, What’s and by the way, I was a logistics guide and barter and I’m like what is you know, I’m out spray Payton Conex boxes with with, you know, hazmat stickers and stuff like that. And I’m like, What did I get into? You know, and so anyway, I ended up going active duty. And you know, so I was a I was a logistics guy. But my whole career I spent trying to get out of logistics. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I I think I did my job and did it very well. But that’s why I ended up doing so many deployments, I volunteered to go if I couldn’t be an infantry man, I, I went to an infantry battalion. And when that infantry battalion was I went to another infantry battalion, and I went on an embedded training team. That’s how I met Matthew asker. And who you mentioned before the show, you know, we’re on embedded training team in Afghanistan together, I volunteered to go as an Augment to mar sock, you know, and got it. So I was always trying to do you know, more, let’s say gung ho rah things, you know, in the Marine Corps, and so I hope that answers your
Aaron Spatz 04:48
question. Yeah, no, yeah, that’s, that’s perfect. That’s perfect. Yeah. That’s, uh, I’m just like, I’m sitting here just laughing as I’m like, Man, some some recruiter somewhere man. pulled it off. I pulled it off. And it’s it’s all it’s it’s it’s half entertaining and half horrifying to hear people’s age.
Chris Bentley 05:09
At the end of the day, you know, I think God has a plan and everything happens for a reason. And yeah, you know, I learned a lot being in logistics. It was, I mean, I learned about coordinating a lot of stuff and managing different things. And it was definitely very impactful on me. But yeah, it was not. I was I had a good what is that as bad score? Yeah. And so I was just like, you know, I’m sure I made that recruiters that that recruiters month, no.
Aaron Spatz 05:42
Yes, yes. Yeah, he were definitely definitely made him happy for sure. So you, you get out after looks like about 15 years of service. And you jump into oil and gas. And for me, it looks to me like, and I could miss characterize us, but looks like for these years preceding Beltrame that you you’re doing a lot of you were doing a lot of sales work. I mean, in in, in short, like, I know, it’s its land, mineral, and royalties and all, you know, all the things that are oil and gas related to acquiring the land, but, but it’s all sales. So like, Tell me about that, like, tell me about how you got into that line of work? And what about that interest you?
Chris Bentley 06:23
You know, when I got out of the Marine Corps, it was it was not part of my plan, I got medically discharged. And if you remember, back in the Obama administration, they were making some deep cuts to the budget, especially the Marine Corps. And so I joke around sometimes I’m in say, you know, if you had an ingrown toenail, you were getting medically discharged. But but you know, I had pretty severe shoulder injury and what it was, it was basically if you were on limited duty for more than one limited duty. So for me, I was on my second limited duty period, doing rehab on my shoulder after surgery, and they, I just got put on the med board. And so, you know, long story short, I got out and and I was just, you know, hey, I need to find a job. I knew I wanted to come back to Texas. At the time, Houston was like the, the fastest growing city in America, number one economy in America at that time. And, you know, it was basically if you could put fog on a mirror, you got the job, well, I, you know, I got down here and, and that wasn’t necessarily the case. But I did take the first job offer that I got, which I didn’t know what a land man or a right of wage and was. And that was the job I got in this guy. He was a veteran, he I’m still in touch with him. He was the, you know, the hiring manager, so to speak, and the VP the, you know, in charge of that this region. And he gave me a shot. And it was it was like what I was meant to do, I believe that like, I was really good at it. You know, it was, like you say it was sales, he used to always joke, we were trying to buy stuff that’s not for sale. So you still you know, that was you know, buying right of way for a pipeline project or leases or mineral rights. And so that’s where I cut my teeth working for him. And then like so many other oil and gas professionals at the end of 2015. Literally for me like a few days before Christmas, in 2015 I got laid off. And and so that was where the idea for Bella Toram started come up. It was like man, I I know there’s still opportunity out there. I know I’m good at this. And he used to always the same guy he’s always joke and say you don’t have to be a doctor to own a hospital. And so that was like really the that kind of the impetus for me want to start Bella Toram I did get another job as Director of Business Development for a few months, but it was not an oil and gas. It was like E commerce telecommunications type stuff and just just wasn’t a good fit for me. I really had found my passion and land, you know, petroleum land management and right away type stuff mineral rights. And so that’s when I started built Hormann in early 2016.
Aaron Spatz 09:10
Wow. Well, that’s, that’s fascinating one how the how you kind of fell fell into the business and but now what a great, great opportunity, because that’s a great I mean, that is like where the rubber meets the road really in, in the business is making that making that happen. And, you know, for for a lot of people. So I mean, for those that may not know my story, like I have a little bit of oil and gas background also when I separated the Marine Corps, which I think Chris I think I only got out maybe six to 12 months ahead of you and and was in Houston in late 2012. And I spent about five years or so doing that. So outside of that world, not a lot of people are going to fully understand or comprehend, like mineral rights and right away and I’ll be honest, I think there’s probably A little bit more of a negative connotation that people have in terms of like, you know, strong arming people into selling things that they don’t want to sell. And so, I would like to give you that opportunity to kind of talk with people about that, like, well, what, what does that really look like? You know, you’re trying to build a pipeline through some property, like, how do you help incentivize somebody to want to get on board with a project? What are like, what, what are your options as a company? And how do you work together with somebody through that?
Chris Bentley 10:30
Yeah, look, that’s a huge there’s a lot to unpack there. But, you know, you there’s a negative connotation with with land men. You know, sometimes I never had to use strong arm tactics ever not in Delatour, I’m not in my job. But you know, GNP land prior developed Orem never had to use condemnation, rights or eminent domain, you know, but just to, you know, basically, I was lucky, the client that we had that was building the pipeline, they wanted to do, right by the landowners, you know, no matter what, so we ended up maybe overpaying for, for some easements, but we didn’t have to use eminent domain, we, we ended up you know, actually probably overpaying for a lot workspace access roads, you know, and the actual easement where the pipelines went. And then, of course, the, the thing that a lot of people joke with is the prize heifer bowl that every landowner owns, that gets, you know, hurt by the project. And so, you know, we paid for a lot of bulls and heifers that were, you know, the, the most expensive prize bloodline in the, in that whatever, you know, breed of cattle, sure. But, you know, and then in the mineral rights buying, it still was a, it still was all, it was great, you know, our I think our bread and butter was sending out letters to Royalty Owners, and really figuring out who owned what and just making unsolicited offers. So every every deal we did was people calling us back based on a letter or phone call we made so you know, people have needs and there’s not really they’re starting to become markets for royalty owners to place their assets for sale on like auction sites and whatever. But there’s not really a real estate agent. It’s like, when you go shopping for a house, you know, you call your agent, you look at what’s available on the market, you go choose one based on your budget, right? Sure. But for for royalties, there’s not really a market yet where you can go out and buy direct from the legacy asset owner, there are people who are trying to sell like, which was our deal, right, is we were trying to buy and sell up to a big private equity investment firm or something like that a bigger firm that buys bundles and packages of assets. Okay, but as far as direct from the owner, the ground game is we’d refer to it in the royalty space, you know, there, that’s where the, you know, the unique, I guess strategy is and where you find the most value is if you can get off market deals. And that was our that was our focus, you know, and that’s what we did really well, at in our early years before, you know, before I screwed up royalty, royally and made some really bad mistakes, and, you know, quite honestly just violated my integrity and tried to cover up the, you know, just some normal business challenges. I, you know, anyway, that that we could go on. We’ll,
Aaron Spatz 13:34
we’ll jump to that in just one second. Let me let me ask one more clarifying question because it just, again, it helps the listener helps the viewer understand just the business, the business model, what do we do, like, what are we doing? Are we talking about so with with going out and acquiring all these rights? You so what I hear you saying, and please correct me if I’m if I’m mischaracterizing this, but it sounds like essentially what you’re doing is is almost similar in like, in general real estate where you’re maybe you’re wholesaling a deal. So maybe you don’t have the intention of actually developing it yourself or doing anything with it. But you know, there’s other people that would be willing to pay a slight premium to what you negotiated the rate for and then you recognize the difference as your revenue and and everybody wins, right? That’s basically what it is.
Chris Bentley 14:20
So So here’s here, there’s, there’s, it’s definitely real estate. So that’s that’s the comparison, because it’s real property, it’s the way it’s exchanged his ownership through a deed. Okay, and I look what I like to use the analogy was like rental property, right? Like you buy. Let’s say, you don’t get me wrong, we would flip like a one asset. Let’s say we bought one little mineral rights parcel that had, you know, let’s call it pioneer was paying out the royalties and they were drilling. You know, and that guy’s getting 100 bucks a month, and we are hoping that pioneer would come in and drill new wells to make that royalty income go up. Now we can sell it for a profit. Or, you know, maybe sometimes there’s already some margin in it. But ideally, the way to look at it if you just want to really simplify it is, you know, when, when people when real estate developers build like this portfolio of cash flowing assets, because they got like apartments and, you know, on several apartments and now they got a bunch of tenants in them in the in the cash flows coming in, now they flip it to a bigger investment firm for, you know, like a REIT or something. Yep. So for with us if we bought a bunch of different cash flowing royalties, and now we can flip it up, you know, and sell it for profit. And it was it was basically just arbitrage game, you know, like just trying to make a profit on you know, buy, buy it at a certain price and sell it for higher.
Aaron Spatz 15:46
Got it. Yeah, makes makes total sense. Alright, so then we’ll, we’ll shift gears to build swarm. So you said you’d gotten laid off from from another company. Again, for those that don’t know, the business. Oil and gas was brutal in like, 1415. I don’t have enough fingers and toes of all my friends and colleagues that have people that were getting laid off, like left and right. It was it was a it was nasty. In this think it happened not too many years before that, too. But there, there have been a lot of just the oil gas industry is very, very cyclical, very moody, depending on the commodity price, and political to but every everything in Houston. Even if you’re not directly touching the oil and gas industry, like you’re not a exploration production company, you’re not a like a mineral rights company. You’re not a downhole drilling tools company. If, however, everybody does business, so if you’re if you’re a public accounting firm, right, or you’re a construction company, chances are the bulk of your book of business is oil and gas, right. So everybody loses in the greater Houston area, and everybody wins, depending on the price of oil for that for that given time. So just to kind of set everybody’s perspective there.
Chris Bentley 17:01
Yeah. Just a quick add on to that. I mean, really, just to add, like a gym owner, a personal trainer, a massage therapy, like, you know, like they’re all restaurants yours hammered? Yeah. When things are bad for oil and gas have?
Aaron Spatz 17:16
Absolutely, absolutely. So that was the setting. Right? That was the that was the setting of when you initiated your own business, which I think is I mean, one that’s pretty admirable that like, your face, you’re facing a storm, you go ahead and decide to get something put together. And so if I remember, right, it obviously involves some your own funding, but you went to outside investors as well. So like, what was the pitch there? What Why did you go and grab outside money. So at
Chris Bentley 17:44
first, it was just my own money. And it was also, um, so in 2016, just my own money, just me. And then eventually, my wife, I got her to quit her job and helped me with like, the data and some of the research while I’d be out on the road going and closing the deals, and it was also a service to a mineral rights firm, actually up there in Dallas, in your neck of the woods. And I would get paid a commission for getting the deal, right. And then, and then it got to where sometimes they’d pass on deals it get get a egg on my face. And so in order to just say face, I’d buy the deal. And I’d end up flipping it. And I would find out more data as I did this, like, oh, wow, well, why didn’t they want that deal. And then I started to learn the business. And I’d flip the deal myself and figure out, you know, I just figured out some things, some things and which ended up leading me to want to part ways with that company, because of just some of the things that I learned and wasn’t happy with. And then brought in, you know, through my executive MBA program at Rice, you know, one of the people I was connected with, and, and I won’t say his name, because, you know, I don’t I don’t, I, I’m pretty sure he’s, you know, wants to see me on a burned at a stake right now. But he was our first investor. And, and, you know, he got, he was interested in what I was doing. And, you know, we did really well for him. And then he brought a friend of his on and we, it just grew from there. And so it really, I never had this idea of being a fund manager, or you know, that it just kind of morphed into that and and so, you know, and then and then once once I learned, like, how that the finance and the the money part of the business work, then I did want to scale it and I realized the how if we had the amount of money that the bigger guys had, but we could still transact on the ground level, like we were going to do extremely well and that that was the goal, you know, yeah.
Aaron Spatz 19:58
Well, I mean, that’s that and that’s it. That’s not that’s not an uncommon thing like you, you figure out, kind of like what you did, right? You, you built a proof of concept, you prove to yourself that you can do it, you’re starting to work out some of your own internal processes and procedures and getting your systems in place, then realizing with you know, additional experience additional conversations, just just being in the game, you realize, like, Okay, wait a second, we could do this, we could just do this on a larger scale. And you know, more of us can win. And we can have a little bit bigger piece of the pie here. If we kind of join forces a little bit more backing right? So then you’re bringing on investors then that that gives you the ability to then maybe carry some these real estate deals for a few months while you’re trying to flip them or go after larger price tagged leases and things like that. Is that right? Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So. So you do that busy business has been, you know, very successful, right to this point, like, you’re, you’re growing it, like, if you’re comfortable sharing, like, what are the revenue numbers that you’d like to share in terms of like your size? If not, it’s okay.
Chris Bentley 21:04
Yeah, no, I’m happy to share and it’s, you know, a lot of it’s out in the public already. Yeah. But um, yeah, we let, I mean, we started with in 2017, I think the total amount of AUM it went from, I think, 35k with the one investor that quickly grew to a total of six investors between some of my classmates, a couple other friends, him the original guy, and his wealth manager. So then it went, so it went from 35k of one investor, to to six investors with 360k. And though these were like, kind of little LLC setup, nothing like SEC filings or anything like this was people huddling up at a over a beer at night to create something, right? Yeah. Well, then, um, we talked to lawyers, obviously, trying to figure out okay, what are we allowed to do, we had one guy that had a background in hedge funds, and he’s like, Hey, whoa, you know, we need to, we’re growing here. We’re making money, we’re making distributions, we better you know, make this like formal right? So we got a PPM I’d never even heard what a PPM was a private placement, memorandum and, and a reg D exemption. And all this stuff. I’m getting into this world of financing now, where things but anyway, long story short, we went from those six investors in 2017, to 27 investors in January of 2018, to 2.3 6 million. So we put all that capital to work literally within like a couple weeks in the deals, doing very well, buying deals, flipping them make, you know, same thing, it’s going it’s working. But because of the structure, we couldn’t bring in new investors in the middle of a cycle. So we even raised another fund in 2018, same group of people, they told their neighbors, their friends, I did a little bit of, you know, also, you know, marketing or whatever you want to call it, talking to my friends and family. And so we went later that year, in the in 2018, we went from 2.3 million to almost, I think 7,000,006.8, something like that, in by October with I think 45 investors still knocked it out of the park, really good returns, you know, anywhere, depending on what time of the year you got in but our lowest annualized return was was like 20% or something like that, and our highest was like 65. And that was net, you know, Netta fees, all those return hoses Sony. So, um, and so we got liquidity, we gave everybody back their money, right. And I’ve talked about this a little bit, if you’ve seen the email circling out there, but like, you know, as you alluded to earlier, we’re still building a business, you know, in this in that book, predictable success. They talked about building the plane while you fly it. And let me make it clear, while while we were, you know, getting some badass results and performance, we were still building the plane while we’re flying it, I was having, you know, challenges, personnel challenges, you know, iron out kinks in the operations growing, you know, the teams growing the offices too small, just normal entrepreneurial stuff. Right. Right. And, and then, but, you know, we’re getting big demand the words getting out of there with our returns. And so we go from that 45 investors that are around October of 2018 to 99 investors by the end of the year that had committed and we had 22 point 7 million you know, and committed capital by you know, Christmas of 2018, which we started taking that capital on in January. Of Yeah, January of two 2019 And, you know, I had some other personal issues that happened in late 2018, my dad died. And I, you know, I just I left the company. And I hope this is never taken as me putting, putting blame on anyone else. I just because I want to make it clear, I take responsibility for not having the right. You know, whatever decisions made, it’s all on me. But I did, I left the business in 2018 thinking that, like certain things were getting done. And I come back in January of 2019 to 99 investors $22.7 million in aum. And things not getting done in that period of while I was dealing with the funeral. So the right thing to do is I’ve said in public and in my emails to my investors is right, then I should have said, Hey, I’m not ready for your 22 point 7 million I had a hiccup over the holidays that I need to fix first, that would have been the right decision. But why was it kind of his starts going downhill from there. So
Aaron Spatz 26:07
let’s let’s go ahead and just roll that roll right down the hill then. So what what went wrong though, like so like, why? One like I’m what I’m hearing is like, I mean, you are the guy that was making all like all this stuff happen. And so like even you being away for a few weeks, sound like it was pretty, pretty disruptive to the business. So like, what like what actually like, went wrong, like so if you weren’t ready to receive those flooding? Like, like, so I’m trying to get the question like, What, what? What did you need in order to feel comfortable about that? So look,
Chris Bentley 26:44
you remember earlier, when we’re talking about buying stuff that’s not for sale in the business, the business market being like one where we get those off market deals? I mean, that was that aspect was like the crucial part of our performance, right? Well, there’s a lot of work that goes to generating deal flow off market deal flow, right. Okay, your data that needs to be cleaned up, there’s let like 1000s and 1000s of letters need to be sent out. And these are quality letters with correct data, correct pricing offers, you know, these are offer letters. Okay. And so, so these things, you know, didn’t happen, I’ll just put it that way like that, in that time of year was crucial. Because January, you know, and I’d only been in the business since 2014. You know, like, right when I got out of the Marine Corps, so I but I had always seen that like January, was the biggest month for buying off market deals. I don’t know if people had buyer’s remorse from spending too much money on ski vacations over Christmas, or what, but people were always willing to sell their mineral rights in January, and it seemed like sell them at a good discount, right? So January deal flow was crucial for us to like, kind of get the big wins for the deal. Well, so the deal flow wasn’t there. When I got back in January, normally, January phones ringing off the hook literally like January 2, right? And so we’re like getting deals like hey, yeah, we’ll close we’re like, it’s it’s a story. We had been a storm previously about a good storm, like, yeah, we gotta hustle to get deals closed. Well, we didn’t have that quality deal flow and the deal flow we did have it was incorrect, because the offers were too high, the data was wrong. So it was just so you know, what I did was buy deals that I shouldn’t have bought, that was the first mistake like I I made bad investment decisions, you know, and, and, you know, that bought some deals off of auction sites, because the deal flow was weak. And then I you know, and because I didn’t have the deal flow. I mean, actually, the very first deal that I bought was at less than arm’s length, it was mineral rights that I own. That was probably my first big DVT like, violation of my own character and my own principles is like, alright, and I had like investors, you know, I had a very transparent reporting model with my investors, I would send them a snapshot of the bank account every Friday and and I had some investors like, Hey, why is there still 20 something million dollars in the bank, you know, you keep sending us these Friday updates, and nothing’s happening. And this was from investors that had been in the previous fund and they it was like, Hey, this is way different than last year was going on red flags, obviously to them because we had able to deploy the capital and turnover deals within the first 60 days. So they saw a lot of transactions in 2018 right now they’re seeing just money sitting in the bank and they’re like, what’s going on? So you know, again, the the right thing to do would have been to just say, look, I screwed up here’s your money back or whatever. Let me give me a chance to get get some operational stuff ironed out. Getting is not an excuse, just so my thinking again, so people understand where I was at it was like, Man, I, because I didn’t have runway, even though we had done extremely well for our investors in 2018, I was operating on a razor thin budgeted Bella Toram. So the way, the way we were structured, we got a one time management fee of two and a half percent. And that was like, two and a half to three months of overhead, you know, for us and so, so I thought, okay, that management fee, I’ve already taken it. So if I, I’m already gonna send my investors back a loss, if I admit defeat now and say, Hey, I wasn’t ready, right? I could have sent them that 97 and a half percent of their money. And, and hopefully saved face somehow, right. But in my mind, I was like, Look, this, this can’t be it, I can fix this. Let’s just clean up the data, get letters out, I know what the problems are. And then it just, it was just downhill man. I mean, there’s a lot of things but like, and as you know, 2019 it, I wouldn’t say it was anywhere near 2014 and 2015 problems. But things started going downhill in the industry. This is like pre COVID. Right? So then those those industry things start happening. And I just started digging myself into a deeper hole, man, and it was like, I overpaid for assets. And then then I got leveraged on the assets, which I was allowed to do by law, but I didn’t disclose it, you know, I got debt on the portfolio, use that money for operating overhead when I wasn’t supposed to. So I, you know, I bought, I did buy some more assets with the money and used a lot of it for operating overhead. And so then COVID comes and I’m already put myself in this in this ditch, you know, and, and, and put all the investors capital at risk. And then, and I was thinking the whole time, like, we had done so well, in our previous funds that I was like, Man, if I could just hit one homerun, all this will go away. Right? And, and that’s when I mean, and then when COVID came, I just like I was like, Man, this can’t last forever. So like it’s same type of thing, right? I was like, how long did it and and not to get on a COVID pandemic or political debate. But to me, it’s still so surreal, like how the world reacted in the government mandates and the shutdowns and the negative oil prices for a day. And like, I mean, it was just, I still, like Wonder how we, you know, how we did all that. But anyway, so long story short, you know, it’s like trying to go into the ring with Mike Tyson, when you’ve never been in a boxing match in your life. You know, like, that’s
Aaron Spatz 32:56
pretty brutal. Yeah, so I’m just so I’m just, you know, for those that are watching, I’m like, taking furious notes here. I’m like, trying to keep up with Chris because I, I like to take notes and understand kind of the sequence of things here. So totally paying attention, just writing notes down. But, um, so sounds like it was multiple decisions kind of gone wrong, and it’s snowball. And so what you’re thinking was like, okay, I can fix I can fix the past mistake with this next thing. And then But then that one gets you a little bit further, like down the hall, you know, crap. Well, the next time I can, like, all we need is this, and we’ll be we’ll be in good shape. And so, but then, like, it never came. And then there’s like, more adversity that was being put in, you know, like, like you mentioned with, with just just the industry in general, we eventually hit into COVID. But like, when this all finally came crashing down? What did that look like? Like? What was the bank account? At that point? Like, didn’t we were able to deploy everybody’s capital? Or did it get enough operating expenses? So I
Chris Bentley 34:05
had deployed all the, you know, all the capital, and then the debt that I got, right, so there was like, no money left. So then I need to in order to, I’m running out of money, I started borrowing money, borrowed money from an investor like, you know, where I have a job now as a manager of a thrift store. And actually one of our largest investors. It’s a it’s a nonprofit charitable thrift store. One of our investors is the owner, one of our largest investors, and arguably the investor that I did the most wrong and deceitful actions to and he, you know, he’s you know, we see each other it’s, you know, and it’s it still pains me to look him in the eye every time I see him, but he’s got me here and doesn’t take anything from me. It’s not like some deal where I’m paying him back. I mean, I could never pay this debt back yet. He lost 1.6 5 million with us. But he just said, Hey, you still got to feed your family and your kids. And so anyway, long story short, I’m working here. But the it was to a point where I was borrowing money just to keep the lights on every month, dig deeper and deeper in the hole. I levered my house to multiple people. And that’s what I meant by by deceitful to this investor, I said, Hey, you know, I’ll let you you know, you can have a lien on my house if this doesn’t work out or something, you know, and, but I had already done that for another investor, and they already had the deed to it. So so I lost my house lost my car, I lost everything, you know, myself as well. But, um, but anyway, to answer when it all was, at the end, you know, what really got me it was was like, I go to church, I go to Bible study, my kid, I’m like, looking at my kids every day and and the bank account, yes, was was slim, but I, you know, I was doing these fake transactions to look profitable. So I could take a cut from, you know, I’d make it look like it was more profitable than it was or whatever. And I would take some operating capital to just keep the lights on, it was like, we’re on life support, right, just barely enough to cover to cover the mortgage payment and payroll, like, every two weeks, I was having to do another fraudulent transaction to just cover payroll, you know? And so anyway, it just, my, my conscience got to Besame I mean, it’s like, literally suicidal, and I was like, I couldn’t look my kids in the I couldn’t sit in church. I thought I was gonna like, you know, God was gonna throw a lightning bolt at me and church. I mean, it just, it was like I was in just a smile at somebody felt like a lie, right? If they say, Oh, how’d you How are you doing, Chris? Good to see you at Bible study. And I’ve got to like, put on this fake smile face, like, Hey, happy to see you. And it just so every little thing I did just felt more and more and more fake. And I just, I was like, I was done. Like, I couldn’t, I was like, I don’t care. And the thing is, as I had this, you know, people, people ask me, you know, that have talked to me more about it, they’re like, You are so close to getting this big capital. And I probably could have read it probably could have done a few more few fraudulent transactions, because things were starting to clear, people were starting to come back out and get more confidence and investing. And I had this one investment group that was really like, calling me, hey, I think we want to commit like $60 million, and others and they were pulling in. And so I was like, Man, I’m gonna get to 100 million. But it was like, one thing that we had this Bible study, and, and part of it was like, building the foundation was the lesson of like, this foundation, right? And I remember thinking to myself, and that was the last Bible study I had the Sunday before I came clean. And I was like, if I do this, even if I get this, like 100 million or more dollars, and it’s built on this foundation of lies, like what’s, like, what I can’t go through, like, what if build towards a 20 3040 year company, and I know, four years from now that I built it on this foundation of lies, like, you know, and, and so I just decided to, you know, I called a friend to say, how would one go about turning themselves into the Fed asking for a friend. I mean, I’m not joking. Like, I had to call a lawyer and act like there was some other scenario and, and I finally got connected with my lawyer and all I didn’t hire a lawyer. As a defense attorney. I literally said, it’s not like one 800 Crimestoppers, right, like you, how do you turn yourself in for these types of crimes? So I had to get advice on it. So my lawyer set up a meeting with the FBI and with the, the Assistant US Attorney and, and I came clean, and then I sent the email after, you know, I knew that I was having that meeting set up. So Wow.
Aaron Spatz 39:04
Wow. So So again, to kind of recap again, just to make sure everyone’s following including myself, but yeah, so you’d on boarded a bunch of capital, you, you you ended up deploying all that capital, but it was into bad deals, deals that really weren’t turning a profit to the point that you that you were anticipating then you’re starting to take on debt and basically just kind of collapsed under under the weight of all like all these different transactions and then really, I mean, thankfully, your conscience kind of getting to you Ryan is like realizing like you’re you’re having a difficult time reconciling the choices and decisions that are being made. And then like I like I cannot imagine what that was like I just I I can’t imagine the pressure, the the apprehension, but then the relief Probably, but like, what all that felt like?
Chris Bentley 40:04
Yeah, you know, there was there was relief, like personal relief from the, you know, like the burden of not having to tell a lie anymore. That was that was huge. I mean, that was big relief, but, you know, the uncertainty about what was gonna happen, you know, I still have that uncertainty now, but like, mainly for my wife and my kids, like, you know, you were talking to me about Iraq and Afghanistan prior to the show, and I, you know, never really been so concerned for what’s going to happen to me, but you know, I take my job is like providing for my family seriously. And I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. Luckily, my wife is a brilliant woman, she’s a hard worker, she’s she’s always been like a professional, you know, she can earn her own money. So I know, financially, her and the kids will be fine. No. But man, he just not knowing to be there for them spiritually and emotionally. And, you know, as a father figure and a husband, that I don’t know what’s gonna happen with that.
Aaron Spatz 41:08
So well, there’s there’s several things that I want to address. And I know we’re already like, past time, but I, we you and I both have a little, little bit of wiggle room here on the back end. But let me if you’re okay, Chris, like, Can I Can I read an excerpt that you share publicly from your book? Is that right? Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So. So you have a book coming out next month, called Burning Bella Toram. You shared a snippet of this on social media recently. And so I just want to read it. I think this is really, really insightful. So this is this is quoting Chris. So I believe that it was what it was this Iraq deployment that influenced how I came to understand death, risk and failure. I think seeing so much death in severe injury made me a little numb and insensitive to what most normal people would perceive to be risky or dangerous. I stated before, I already had somewhat of an entrepreneurial spirit within me. But I think my experiences in the Marine Corps especially during that 2004 deployment, Iraq, really raised my risk tolerance in all facets of life. So you see that playing out in this venture, like if you feel like you kind of lost a sense of like, what, what, like, what physical risk and financial risk and everything meant?
Chris Bentley 42:23
Absolutely, man, and again, let me be clear, I’m not blaming my decisions on my military service. So yes, carry on. I know, no, not whatsoever. But anyway, I do definitely think I look at risk differently because of the influences of you know, and just so we’re all influenced by our life experiences, no matter what they are, right? And so that’s that little excerpt that you read is from a larger part of the book that talks about the influence of these life’s experience who made me who I am today. And specifically, you know, that that 2004 deployment to Fallujah. I was with an infantry unit on the road every day outside the wire. Yes, I’m a Pogue. I know if there’s any grunts out there, special operators listening like how this poem couldn’t have seen too much. You know, he’s a logistics guy. But anyway, I was with an infantry unit, always outside the wire. On convoys, you know, we were out little Opie’s and, and whatnot. And that deployment was was it was my third deployment, but it was the most just chaotic and that lots of loss and casualties from our unit. I was with Second Battalion, second Marines at the time, we move from all over, you know, the Fallujah the and, and Baghdad and all this we are always out on the road. And, I mean, I talk about in the, in that particular part of the book about literally seeing this beloved Gunnery Sergeant he was he was right writing in the turret and he got hit by an RPG like right in the turret so there’s nothing left this guy and this was a gunny that the whole battalion knew loved them I don’t want to say his name for the for the sensitivity to his family and stuff that might possibly hear this but I mean, we saw this guy turn into pink mist and that was just one thing I you know, and anyway, my point with all that and how it’s relevant is when you two things there right risk when you overcome so much risk. You think you can do anything you think you can, at least with me? I thought, man, I’ve been through all this crazy shit where there was no manual. There was no training that could have prepared us for this but yet somehow, we were successful. We got through it. We built outpost, we built roads and wells and we beat the enemy and did all this stuff. And you know, I’m still you Some could argue against this, but I’m still like a somewhat functioning member of society. And, and I witnessed all these things or whatever. So there’s that, right you think you can do anything. But also when you go out and you know, like, hey, this was this this 2004 deployment, why I say it was so influential, we didn’t have up armored vehicles and all this protective equipment. We’re out there. And, you know, I’ve got trapnell in my body. And I’ve been in these firefights. And I’ve survived all this stuff. And I’m like, Man, this is I’m thinking anything inside an air conditioned office with where the biggest thing that might happen to me is get a paper cut. And also, I did deal with money on these deployments being as logistician like dealing with big military spending, you know, like spending a lot of money on stupid crap over in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m thinking like, you know, so I did, I think, under estimate risk. And, and I think it definitely influenced my, you know, my risk tolerance.
Aaron Spatz 46:01
Sure. No, I think that’s, that’s a very interesting perspective. And again, I know you’ve already owned it, and that you’re not you’re not deflecting, or shifting blame or anything like that. But I think it’s, I think it’s interesting perspective that I think it’s interesting context, something, something to think about. Yeah, I mean, that’s really it. I mean, I really appreciate your Chris, like, sharing some of this. I mean, there’s so much more we could go into, and it’s like Time flies when you’re having fun. I didn’t want to like address. I don’t know if it’s really appropriate for the show. But, you know, I would encourage folks, yeah, I just, I would encourage him. Well, you mentioned some spiritual stuff. And whenever I hear some of that, I feel like I have an obligation to speak up and I say something, because this, this will become a record, you know, someone can watch this tomorrow, they can watch this, you know, years from now. And the concept of, you know, God striking me with with a lightning bolt, we’ve all felt that every single one of us has felt that for sure. at different parts of our life, I just like man, like, how, you know, how can I do this? And how could God forgive me? Right? And what’s what’s amazing is, he absolutely does like he, he actually promises to do that. And there’s, there’s some really amazing scripture that people can reference. And again, I don’t know, everyone’s faith backgrounds, but I would just, I would just consider this. And I’ll and maybe I’ll just, I’ll maybe I’ll add a little bit more substance to the show notes. So that I don’t put everybody to sleep with this, but I think it’s but I think it’s very important. So, you know, he, he has forgiven your sin. So like, if you simply accept Christ as the as, as, as the boss of your life as I, as I sometimes refer to it like you like you can go to Romans 10. So the book of Romans chapter 10. I think it’s verse 10, verse nine, let me pull up real quick. Yeah, okay. So if you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that he raised from the dead, you’ll be saved. So that that’s all that takes. But then beyond that, it’s just simply receiving that forgiveness and receiving that like so not realizing. So I’m trying to I’m trying to try to squash the perception that a lot of us, myself included, at times in the past has had Gods wanting to like thump you upside the head. And even though we deserve a thumping upside the head for sure. Twice, you know. But that’s not how he views us. And it’s important to not let that narrative take root in our minds that he’s not a father that’s looking to put a weapon on somebody. He’s, he’s actually, he’s looking for ways to bless you. So anyway, I’ll stop my preaching. This isn’t meant to be a spiritual podcast, but I’ll I’ll include maybe a little bit more. links down below to people that can maybe do some additional reading, I’ll just link up some stuff that would maybe be encouraging to people but But Chris, I mean, tremendous amount of courage to come forward. Tremendous amount of courage. I think, like, again, there’s another note, I don’t have it pulled up but you’re waiting for that meeting with the FBI in the assistant, US attorney. And again, it’s like, I applaud you for coming clean on all that stuff. And I know it’s I know it’s been a bit of a road I don’t know how much more that road you have. If like is all of that done is a situation completely like finished? Are you still have some hanging chads?
Chris Bentley 49:35
Oh, it’s hanging? I haven’t I haven’t been charged. Or sentence the I don’t know what’s going to happen in it. And you know, I want to take this moment just to say like publicly like, I am sorry, to my investors. I’ve said it to them in emails and whatnot, but I mean, I hope they know that I truly am. And I’m like I’m writing this book which is getting kind I’ve mixed feedback from some of the investors from what I hear that that they think this is wrong to me. And and I want to be clear this book 100% of the proceeds minus what the federal government takes, obviously, is, is going to the investors, so I’m not making a dime off this book and, and, you know, I, you know, God willing if I make you know $40 million and pay them all back if it makes any more than that, then yeah, I’ll make some money. But that’s not like, my goal here is to make investors whole and to teach entrepreneurs and fund managers and investors like the lessons that I learned and you know, some people say, Oh, who are you? You’re such a hypocrite, you don’t have a right to tell anybody anything. But, man, I learned a lot of stuff in this journey. And it’s not it’s it’s stuff that, you know, I think is a valuable lesson for anybody that you net. Like, there are things when when I’m being retrospective, or introspective or both that that there are ways that you can spot is not just as simple as like the the decisions on the ground are never as simple as the Monday morning quarterbacking. Right? So anyway, yeah.
Aaron Spatz 51:13
Well, I think you’ve said a lot, I think you’ve cleared the air, I don’t think there’s any mistaking where you stand and where you fall on all of this. And it’s going to be on on everyone else to either accept or not what it is you’re stating. And and to let your actions from this moment forward. Be the reflection of what you’re saying, right. So like, seeing how, you know what you do next, what you do with the proceeds of the book, what you’re doing with all that, like, let that be the evidence of like, let that be the reinforcer to what you’re saying. And so I think it’s sure, I think it’s great. I think it’s great. I mean, it’s a horrible situation. And, and I, again, I just can’t imagine what you what you’ve been through when everybody else affiliated with this has been through but I mean, it’s a tremendous growth opportunity. And, and, you know, praying that there can be reconciliation, that there’s no restoration, there’s things that can be fixed to the extent that it can be fixed. So but but man I, I applaud you for, for stopping it before it got even more crazy. If we want to try to look at it had a glass half full perspective, it’s like, glad that you’re able to pump the brakes on it. Even though I know you could pump the brakes much sooner. But you But you did. Like you did stop it. And before continue to get even crazier. And but I just want to thank you, man, thanks for taking time to share this with me. I know it’s difficult. And the book is still scheduled to come out next month.
Chris Bentley 52:47
Yeah. So April 9, it’s a it’s a year from the date that that I sent the email to the investors. And it’s the book is done. It’s with the proofreader, and right now I’m going to try to have the audio book recorded before April 9, but for sure, the Kindle e reader in the in the paperback will be ready on April 9 on Amazon. So
Aaron Spatz 53:10
amazing. Amazing. Well, Chris, thank you. Thanks for spending so much time with me for going way over the time that we originally were thinking it was going to go but there’s there’s so much here to your story. And I just I really appreciate you sharing that with me. And in just for just being so open, man. Thank you.
Chris Bentley 53:28
Yeah. Thanks, Aaron. Thank you for having me and simplified brother. Appreciate it.
Aaron Spatz 53:32
Semper Fi. Thanks for listening to America’s entrepreneur. If you enjoyed the show, please leave a review or comment on your preferred social media platform. share it out with friends, family, coworkers, others in your network. And of course you can write me directly at Erin at Bold media.us That’s a Ron at Bold media.us